Ubuntu 8.04 field notes

As I mentioned in one of the comments I posted in last Friday’s FNT, I was planning on taking a laptop running Ubuntu 8.04 on a business trip this week. Well, here I am in Tuscon AZ… and this is Day 3 on the road with Linux!

Ubuntu pre-installs a reasonable set of desktop applications. Firefox, OpenOffice, Evolution (an Outlook-like e-mail client), Rhythmbox (music player), etc. are all there by default. Before leaving, I installed and/or configured the following additional applications:

  • Thunderbird. I prefer Thunderbird to the default Evolution e-mail client, so I installed it from the Ubuntu repository. Installation and setup were uneventful, and Thunderbird worked just like I am accustomed to on Windows.
  • Amarok. IMO much nicer than the default Rhythmbox music player. This installed without incident from the Ubuntu repository. (I should point out that Ubuntu also detected the sound hardware on the laptop and installed the correct drivers without any input from me.)
  • VMware Server 1.0.5. I needed this application for the trip. VMware Server was not available from the Ubuntu repository (since although it is free, it is proprietary commercial software), so I downloaded and attempted to install the Linux version from VMware’s web site. This one was very nearly a train wreck. I did get it working eventually, but it involved a lot of Googling, and the installation of a third-party hack to make it compatible with Ubuntu 8.04. And the system clock in the virtual machine goes nuts whenever SpeedStep kicks in; this doesn’t just affect the time-of-day clock, it causes the whole guest OS to behave oddly (so I have to disable SpeedStep whenever VMware is in use). To be fair, these are probably as much VMware’s problem as Ubuntu’s…
  • Remote Desktop (actually called Terminal Server Client on Ubuntu). I needed this to be able to remotely access my Windows XP desktop at the office in case I needed any files that were not on the laptop. This is installed by default, so I just needed to test it. I had one minor glitch—full-screen mode does not play nice with the compositing window manager (compiz) now used by Ubuntu. After some Googling, I came up with a fix (disable "Legacy Full-Screen Mode Support" in compiz).
  • VNC viewer, to view remote Linux desktops. Installed from the Ubuntu repository without incident.

During my initial setup and checkout of the laptop, I noticed something really annoying. It seems that in its default configuration, Ubuntu 8.04 has serious problems dealing with the lid of the Compaq nc6220 laptop being closed and reopened. CPU usage zooms up, the system becomes very sluggish, and stays that way until the next reboot. A bit of Google-fu eventually revealed that some other laptop models are affected as well, and that there is a workaround (a tweak of the video driver that tells Ubuntu to allow the BIOS to manage the LCD backlight instead of trying to do it itself). Although I was able to work around the issue, glaring problems like this can give people a negative first impression; I hope Ubuntu fixes this soon with a patch.

Once here in Tucson, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Ubuntu detected and connected to the hotel Wi-Fi access point seamlessly. The wireless chip in the laptop had been detected automatically and the proper drivers installed during system setup, with absolutely no intervention on my part. Installation and setup of Skype was also uneventful (though the download of the package from Skype’s site was painfully slow over the hotel Wi-Fi connection).

Although I had forgotten to install Skype before leaving, I did have the foresight to drag along a snapshot of the entire official Ubuntu 8.04 repository (all 50+ Gb of it on an external 2.5" hard drive), to make installation of any additional software from the repository faster. I figured the less I had to depend on the hotel Wi-Fi connection for downloading packages the better. After arriving, I also installed the following, all without incident:

  • Bluefish. I’m still trying to decide what text editor I prefer to use on Linux, and figured I’d give this one a spin. Looks pretty reasonable so far.
  • Mediawiki (and MySQL). I need to do some work for the office Intranet site, and decided I’d be better off doing it offline and uploading the content to the server when I arrive back at the office than trying to do it all remotely. (This decision was partially due to the lack of connectivity while on-site, more on this in a moment.)

We initially had no Internet access while on-site; so Monday afternoon we picked up a Verizon 3G wireless modem. With the Verizon modem connected to a Windows XP laptop running ICS, and my Ubuntu laptop wired to the XP system via their Ethernet ports, both systems were able to access the ‘net. (I have not yet attempted to get the wireless modem working on Ubuntu directly; that’s an experiment for another day.)

So overall, I’d say Ubuntu 8.04 has worked reasonably well. The issue with the laptop lid switch was troublesome until I figured out how to work around it, and the VMware installation issues were annoying (but are likely at least partly VMware’s fault). Everything else I’ve tried to do has pretty much just worked.

So is Linux finally ready for the desktop? Based on the past few days, I would have to answer with a qualified "yes." Depending on your needs, Linux can definitely be a viable alternative to Windows. I also plan to install Ubuntu 8.04 on a desktop at home within the next week or two. For years, Linux desktop proponents have been like long-suffering Chicago Cubs fans who have been waiting 100 years (and counting…) for a championship. The mantra of a true Chicago Cubs fan is "Just wait until next year!". For desktop Linux, I think "next year" may have finally arrived.

 

Comments closed
    • kc77
    • 11 years ago

    whoops meant to reply to Fire.

    • FireGryphon
    • 11 years ago

    Hey, Mike, did you try getting the 3D modem running on Linux yet?

      • just brew it!
      • 11 years ago

      Haven’t tried yet, someone else (with a Windows laptop) took the 3G modem on the road. When it’s back in the office I may give it a shot.

    • Corrado
    • 11 years ago

    I bit the bullet yesterday and put Ubuntu on my spare 320gig HD and took out the Vista drive. I ‘like’ Vista, but I’m having some stupid problem with spy/malware. I have NO idea where it came from, I never use IE, I’m running 64bit Vista Ultimate, I run FireFox exclusively and am running Avast! Desktop and I keep AdAware around. Every morning I wake up to Avast! messages about some form of spyware detected, I delete it, it says its successfully deleted, and sure enough the next day, its there again. There were problems with random sounds being played. I found the supposed naughty process, killed it, deleted the file in safe mode, and it was back again. Ran a rootkit finder, found something, deleted it, still didn’t get rid of the issue. I rebooted my PC and saw there was 15 accounts created, all saying ‘Internet User’. I deleted all those accounts and the random sounds (read: ads) stopped.

    This is truly weird as I have not had a spyware infection in YEARS. Not since FireFox became truly usable and I began to use nothing but that. I’m just ready to throw my hands up and give up. I’m sure its 1 single infection, because thats all Avast! or AdAware ever find, I just can’t get rid of it.

    I’ve been running OS X on my laptop (Dell Latitude D620) now for about 3 weeks and its been FANTASTIC. My ONLY niggling complaint is the lack of a working ‘sleep’ function. This is supposedly because of the video driver (integrated Intel 945G), and theres a bug with the bios on my laptop forcing me to run single core, but in all honesty speed isn’t an issue and that lets my battery last way longer. SpeedStep works great, Audio, Networking (got the Dell card, the Intel won’t work), CD burning, Quartz Extreme, Bluetooth, everything works great.

    Figured I’d try and mix it up a little and try out Ubuntu as I hadn’t done it since I tried it on my iBook G4 2 years ago. This was a positive experience for me, but replacing OS X with Ubuntu is kinda a half step backwards for me in terms of polish, usability and support.

    The only thing right now that seems to be holding me back is sharing movies to the XBox360. I’m still struggling with that. Any ideas?

      • thecoldanddarkone
      • 11 years ago

      Which anti-rootkit software did you use?

      • vorgusa
      • 11 years ago

      I have been using Mediatomb for a while with my PS3 and I believe it works fine for the XBox

    • Fragnificent
    • 11 years ago

    I’m still grounded firmly in Windows…at least it works. Every time, and I mean EVERY time I’ve been adventurous enough to try Linux, it has basically been a total crapfest. Lack of drivers, problems booting, problems with programs installing, etc etc, the list is endless. It just doesn’t work as well as Windows. Ubuntu included. I could not for the life of me get this to work on any machine I tried. I tried the 32 bit version and the 64 bit version, and had enless problems. It gives you bootloader messages, hangs during install, crashes (on known stable machines) and mice and keyboards stop working randomly. I give up on Linux….it just isn’t worth it, and all these years later, nobody can produce a version that works “the first time” with no tweaking or hacking. :/

    • Artur
    • 11 years ago

    Just my 5 cents. With programs like Wine you can add their repository to your system’s list. That way your Wine is up to date and not 10 versions behind.

    • just brew it!
    • 11 years ago

    As an aside to this, I see that Fedora 9 has also been released. If I have time, I plan to play with that as well to see how it compares to Ubuntu 8.04. (I’m actually a long-time Fedora/Redhat user, having installed it on servers both at home and work going back several years now… but while it is a competent server platform, it seems that desktop usage has never been a huge priority for them.)

      • eitje
      • 11 years ago

      the more i think about it, the more i like microsoft’s year-stamp approach to versioning.

        • just brew it!
        • 11 years ago

        Ubuntu essentially does that. The version number is in the form y.mm (y = last digit of year, mm = month). Sort of like AMD/ATI’s Catalyst version numbers.

          • eitje
          • 11 years ago

          i never noticed that! hmm!

    • soren121
    • 11 years ago

    *oops, accidental post*

    • Hattig
    • 11 years ago

    Linux and laptops … still having problems. I first installed Linux on a laptop about 8 years ago, and to read that there are still issues is sad. Still, at least your wireless worked, more than my last Linux install managed until I tweaked configuration files by hand.

    The desktop itself is fine, that isn’t where Linux needs work right now. The software is also mostly fine, and a default install does give you a lot.

    It’s that last 5% of polishing of the core system to get it working great out of the box all the time for all non-exotic hardware combinations. Sadly that last 5% will seem to take 95% of the time 🙂

      • just brew it!
      • 11 years ago

      I don’t think it’s sad at all. Linux has come a long way in the past couple of years, and Windows is certainly not trouble-free either these days. Where you apparently see a glass half-empty, I see it half-full.

      • indeego
      • 11 years ago

      “I first installed Linux on a laptop about 8 years ago, and to read that there are still issues is sad.”

      Name another OS with wider hardware support in such a short time (~10 years) on so many platforms (30+)g{<.<}g

      • FireGryphon
      • 11 years ago

      I think that is totally false statement, to say that the ‘same problems are till here’.

      Let’s be fair. If you mess around with configuration files in Windows, you’ll probably screw it up as well. I find that Nowadays, Linux works out of the box very well; Ubuntu is nearly perfect in this regard, and can probably work for 90% of the people who use computers.

      Ubuntu isn’t perfect. There’s lots of room for improvement, and some things can be more accessible than they are. I just can’t rationalize the charges you’re bringing.

    • AMDisDEC
    • 11 years ago

    I’ve installed Hardy 8.04 on about 120 machines for average home users. Only about 10 asked to replace it with XP. They liked Ubuntu well enough and were able to use it effectively, but needed to run Windows specific apps.

      • AvKn
      • 11 years ago

      Good news indeed. 😀 May I ask what some of those Windows apps are?

      • Tamale
      • 11 years ago

      did wine not work for those apps?

        • AMDisDEC
        • 11 years ago

        Don’t know.

        Some of these users want complete transparency and introducing so many layers to allow them to work opens the possibility of my having to make excessive support calls or visits.
        In a POS app, no one wants to deal with down time or glitches.
        Sometimes, the path of least resistance is to just leave them with Windows.
        Interestingly, these were less than 10% of users.

    • FireGryphon
    • 11 years ago

    Now for the true test!

    Now that I can navigate my way around Ubuntu, I figured I’d install it on someone else’s system. This person manages to infect a Windows XP installation with adware and viruses despite various combinations of Norton/McAfee/AVG/Spybot/AdAware being installed.

    Linux is supposedly (nearly) malware free, huh? So far the test subject can use Firefox, Pidgin, save files, and other simple tasks just fine once I set up the OS. If this works, I’ll be truly impressed.

      • just brew it!
      • 11 years ago

      q[

    • FireGryphon
    • 11 years ago

    The greatest thing about Ubuntu is that there is now actual support for a Linux distribution. Previously, if I had a problem, there was absolutely nowhere I could go to get help unless I already knew a great deal of Linux jargon and how the OS worked. The Linux world was completely inaccessible.

    Now, I type some keywords into Google and I get pages and pages of help for the common problems and basic tasks that I need to perform to use Linux. Whoever managed to get this Ubuntu project going are geniuses.

    • hans
    • 11 years ago

    Now try to get a 6-button mouse fully functional.

    • just brew it!
    • 11 years ago

    Another tidbit… while I was sitting at the gate in Tucson waiting for my return flight to board, I was making phone calls through the laptop, using SkypeOut over the Tucson airport WiFi. The ability to do stuff like this, and have it just work on the first try with no troubleshooting is another good indication of platform maturity IMO.

    • Rza79
    • 11 years ago

    You should give Linux Mint a try. It’s based on Ubuntu but made even more user friendly.

    • pdjblum
    • 11 years ago

    Mike, I live in Tucson. Why don’t we hook up and take a hike in sabino and talk pcs or whatever?

      • just brew it!
      • 11 years ago

      Unfortunately I’m already back in Illinois… maybe next time.

    • maxxcool
    • 11 years ago

    Odd as it may sound, I have had better luck with Ubuntu-Studio. With all the video and audio codecs included all i needed to install for me was flash, and wine..

    • woneal
    • 11 years ago

    I work for ASUS and have been on a bit of a(n) Ubuntu crusade. I installed the last version of Ubuntu on a few of our laptops and aside from say, getting Flash to work in video sites like Liveleak and YouTube, everything was super-smooth and seamless. Another thing that I really love about Ubuntu is how quickly it installs, especially compared to XP or Vista. I’m gonna slack off today and install 8.04.

      • provoko
      • 11 years ago

      How did you install Flash? I haven’t tried 8.04 yet, but all the linux distros give me a headache when I try Flash. In fact, I’ve never successfully installed flash on any linux distro….

        • just brew it!
        • 11 years ago

        Y’know, quite honestly I don’t even remember installing it on 8.04, but it’s there. So the install must’ve been rather uneventful.

          • provoko
          • 11 years ago

          So flash comes with 8.04?

            • BobbinThreadbare
            • 11 years ago

            No it doesn’t, but firefox installs it very easily.

            • just brew it!
            • 11 years ago

            Yeah, I didn’t mean to imply that it came *[

        • FireGryphon
        • 11 years ago

        When I opened a web page that needed flash, I was able to install it automatically. It installed and worked without any problems.

        The only problems I’ve had with installing flash in Ubuntu is when I run Ubuntu from a live CD. Regular installs are fine, though.

        • bthylafh
        • 11 years ago

        On Ubuntu the easiest way is to install ubuntu-restricted-extras, which has Flash, Java, fonts, codecs, and a few other things.

        • Corrado
        • 11 years ago

        It installs the same way it does on Windows in FireFox when you goto a page that requires it. The thing that boggled me was that there was THREE different flash implementations to choose from. An ‘official’ adobe one and 2 apparently open source ones. I chose one of the open source ones and it works… not sure I like it yet though. I’m going to have to try and uninstall it and get a different one to compare.

    • thermistor
    • 11 years ago

    Fellas talking about VMWare: VMWare, the free server version, allowed me to virtual-ify Ubuntu 8.04…but no sound, and just 2D graphics. Looks solid for file serving, etc, but not for play. I’m not a programmer or an IT guy or anything and if it gets complicated I back away pretty quick.

    But I think I’ll hang onto the free VMware server just to try out other Linux distros, and maybe even previous versions of Windows if I’m feeling nostalgic 🙂

      • Saribro
      • 11 years ago

      Yeah, the default VMWare Server VM doesn’t add a virtual soundcard, but you should be able to add it to the hardware configuration.

        • just brew it!
        • 11 years ago

        Yeah, IIRC I managed to get sound working in Ubuntu 7.10 while running in a VMware VM. It tended to stutter if you did anything that created significant CPU load though.

    • thermistor
    • 11 years ago

    Ubuntu and Wubi do not like RAID0 ICHXR (X = 7,8,9,etc.). I got a 30 page tutorial…no thanks.

    I grabbed an ancient ATA 10.2 Gb disk and plugged it into the (unused) PATA port, just to see what Ubuntu could do on modern hardware (Q6700, 4Gb RAM, 8800GT). Recognized my network instantly, got print server AND printer hooked to a Windows box recognized in record time. Ubuntu is solid.

    I’m going to Unraid the TV media box and do a dual boot, just to try out MythTV…heard good things about it.

      • cheesyking
      • 11 years ago

      Myth rocks! I’ve been using it for about a year now and it runs pretty well even on the ancient compaq I run it on. The main benefits come from having more than one Myth box in the house though

    • BobbinThreadbare
    • 11 years ago

    If you like Amarok, you might want to try Exaile, it supposed to be basically the GTK version of Amarok, so it should integrate better with Gnome.

    Also, for your text editor needs, just use notepad++ through wine, works for me.

    • boing
    • 11 years ago

    Something I noticed on ALL Linux, BSD and Solaris-dists I tried out so far: The homepages look like shit in Konqueror and Firefox compared to Firefox running Windows or OSX. I don’t know why, the font-settings are identical in Firefox in all OS’s.

    My guess is that it has something to do with Microsoft and Apple providing their OS’s with decent-looking fonts.

      • Tamale
      • 11 years ago

      generally i tend to agree with you… but at least there are a lot more font options in linux and if you want you can get the same windows fonts in linux too.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 11 years ago

    It’s funny this comes up, because today on campus I bumped into a guy using Ubuntu 8.04 on his dell laptop. I asked him about the GUI and he showed me some cool stuff, like dragging a window or the multi-desktop implementation (similar to “Spaces” in OS X Leopard). It looked pretty solid, really.

      • AvKn
      • 11 years ago

      I hate it when this happens. Linux desktop environments have had this feature for years, OS X plays catch-up, copies the feature, calls it something different, and now people are speaking of the “Linux feature like the one in OS X” instead of the other way around. Apple may be a truly innovative company, but the innovation the open-source community combined brings is simply unparalleled.

      And yeah, of course Compiz is better than Aero. 😀

        • Tamale
        • 11 years ago

        actually some of compiz’s fancier looking features ARE ripped right out of OSX.. and even vista too. the “flip switcher” is flip 3d and the other one is “cover flow”.. heh.

        but yeah, some of them are the other way around…

        whatever, everyone copies everyone these days. you can get the rotating desktop cube for vista now..

      • just brew it!
      • 11 years ago

      Yup, I had already found that article. Tried everything, and the only thing that seemed to completely fix it (guest OS clock didn’t run fast or slow) was to disable power management on the host.

        • Swampangel
        • 11 years ago

        Just wanted to mention that in my experience this is a VMWare issue, not a Linux one exactly. At my last job, VMWare Workstation on WinXP had similar (sounding) system clock issues as well.

          • just brew it!
          • 11 years ago

          Yes, I’m fairly certain the clock thing is (mostly) a VMware issue, though it seems to be greatly exacerbated by the new Linux “dynamic tick” kernel feature.

          Also, the VMware Tools installation procedure on Linux VMs blows chunks. I give them partial credit for trying to automatically rebuild the drivers from source when the stock binary ones aren’t suitable, but the automatic rebuild generally doesn’t work. (At least it hasn’t worked on any of the 3 or 4 distros I’ve tried to run inside a VMware VM…)

    • random_task
    • 11 years ago

    Whooo! Tucson!
    How long are you going to be here?

      • just brew it!
      • 11 years ago

      Heading home tomorrow…

    • eitje
    • 11 years ago

    A side-by-side would be interesting now with XP and/or Vista. When something happened automatically on your Linux box, what happened w/ XP/Vista? When something failed on your Linux box, what happened w/ XP/Vista?

    I’m glad to hear that you tried and were able to use Ubuntu. I recommend checking out *[

      • indeego
      • 11 years ago

      I think part of the issue with comparison against the Windows and OSX world is you have the “kitchen sink” issue:

      Microsoft doesn’t include 3rd party applications, doesn’t update them, and doesn’t even really push you to use them. Microsoft’s ecosystem shines when you use Microsoft Software in an all Microsoft Software environment. Some people say this reduces TCO, others say it locks people into a platform, and even more say they do or don’t like the direction MS forces on them. However, more software choice is available on MSFT platform than the other two combined, and it still provides the most seamless work environment for most industries.

      Apple has highly polished applications and interface that would be considered extraneous in Windows. I see the word “polished” whenever I look at Apple’s stuff. I’ve long since stopped caring what is cool or not, but apparently wearing apple stuff is considered hip, even if 60% of the population wears it.

      Ubuntu chooses those 3rd party applications, all are free to modif and examine closely, you can add many more, and all are managed and updated for you in a slick and seamless interface. No licensing worries, in general. High training costs for people coming from other computing areas. The downside is it is less user friendly to get outside of this shell, and you might need to wait longer for updates to software (like ubuntu firefox, which lags under ubuntu compared to other platforms.)

      What was my point again? well, Ubuntu has a lot that Microsoft doesn’t, and a different philosophy. So you can’t just compare the tech, you have to compare the philosophies as wellg{<.<}g

        • just brew it!
        • 11 years ago

        q[

          • BobbinThreadbare
          • 11 years ago

          Yeah, but when 3.0 comes out it will take a while for the Ubuntu repository to get it. For a great example just look at wine, I think it’s like 10 versions behind the newest release.

            • just brew it!
            • 11 years ago

            Well when you release a new version every couple of weeks like wine does, it’s pretty easy for distros to get behind! 😀

            If the delay is because they are vetting the packages for security and stability issues, then I’m OK with it. OTOH if it is because they simply can’t keep up, then yeah that’s a little annoying. But either way, you still have the option of going around the package management system, so it is a trade-off between convenience and always having the latest bleeding-edge version of <insert name of favorite application here>.

        • eitje
        • 11 years ago

        see, and i think you can just compare the tech, especially with Vista. It has a lot more built-in than XP ever did.

          • indeego
          • 11 years ago

          It doesn’t have a serious Word Processing suite or photo editor built ing{<.<}g

            • eitje
            • 11 years ago

            those aren’t things that jbi mentioned in the field notes.

            my recommendation to JBI is: try to do all of the same stuff with a fresh install of windows vista, and tell me how successful you are, comparatively.

            • MattMojo
            • 11 years ago

            I don’t really like Linux for desktop environment, especially one that requires work in the enterprise to be conducted, but in all honesty that really wouldn’t be a fair comparison for Linux being that, say for example, the Verizon debacle he had were it was required that he have internet and in order to do so he got a Verizon wireless card which had to be installed on a Windows (or MAC for that matter since it is support now) box, then shared via ICS and connected directly via patch cord.

            I am glad that, now more than ever, a real competitor is emerging for the home user space and soon the corporate environment as that never benefits a single dominate company since now that they have to actually compete.

            Mojo

      • FireGryphon
      • 11 years ago

      I really like this idea, but it’s more for a feature article than it is for a blog post. Other than that, I think TR can pull it off.

    • indeego
    • 11 years ago

    /[<"For years, Linux desktop proponents have been like long-suffering Chicago Cubs fans who have been waiting 100 years (and counting...) for a championship."<]/ I think many Linux on the desktop fans are equally in the camp of "we don't care what other people do, we love it anyway." Nice mini-reviewg{<.<}g

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